Sleep, Dreams, and the Active Brain
New studies are confirming what many of us already intuited; that people with active brains sleep more fitfully…but these new studies also suggest that the same people will more easily recall their dreams, and may in fact dream more often than people who sleep soundly. Researcher Perraine Ruby of France has concluded that there are two categories of sleepers out there; the people who can sleep deeply and the people who wake often and sleep fitfully.

In two interconnected studies, Ruby found that these two categories seem to dovetail with another set: people who barely remember their dreams, or even if they have them at all; and those who recall their dreams often and with ease. Indeed, a the study suggests, these two sets of data have more to do with one another than previously thought.

The newly-released study, conducted by France’s Lyon Research Center, has found that people who recall their dreams only two or so times a month are more likely to be the same people who sleep deeply and with few interruptions, while people who have high dream recall—upwards of 20 dreams a month recalled—are also more often the people who sleep fitfully and wake often.
The correlation can be backed by further scientific evidence in the form of brain scans taken while participants were sleeping as well as when they were awake. The scans showed that people who sleep fitfully and recall dreams more readily show higher levels of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, as well as in the temporo-parietal junction. All the data pointed to a correlation between sleep depth, dream recall, and activity levels in brain.

According to the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, the aforementioned areas of the brain have previously been shown to be highly important for the processing of sensory information from the preceding day. And since the human brain cannot form new memories while asleep–being too busy processing information–those who sleep fitfully might not simply have more dreams, but might recall them specifically because they wake enough for the dreams to be cemented into memory.

The study, published on Feb. 19 in the Neuropsychopharmacology journal, had 41 participants. Of those participants, 21 showed the deeper sleep pattern and the lower dream recall, at approximately two dreams remembered during the course of the month-long study, while 20 showed higher dream recall and more fitful sleep patterns, and recalled their dreams up to five mornings in each week.

Ruby performed PET scans on the participants both while they were asleep and while they were awake, scanning specifically for areas of the brain showing more spontaneous activity. The scans showed that activity in the information processing hubs of the brain was higher in the high dream-recalling group during sleep and during period of wakefulness, indicating that it was a normal state of the brain in these people rather than simply a sleep-related brain function.

Ruby also published the study last year in another journal, titled Cerebral Cortex, which established that people who show greater wakefulness and dream recall are also people who are more reactive to environmental cues and stimuli, such as sounds. Ruby asserts that people with higher dream recall may in fact do so partly because they react more often to sounds and other environmental disturbances, waking enough to cement their dreams into memory. Meanwhile, people who do not live with as constant a stream of activity in the information-processing areas of their brains will not react as easily to noises while sleeping. Thus, these sound sleepers will be less likely to wake long enough to record their dreams in the memory centers of the brain.

In laymen’s terms, if a person thinks too much and has a very active brain, they’ll likely sleep less, dream a lot, and remember the jumble their brains made of the cascade of information with ease…as long as they get enough sleep to dream at all, that is.

By Kat Turner


Huffington Post